A large part of the Camargue, the largest wetlands in France, is located on the territory of the commune, making it the largest commune in Metropolitan France in terms of geographic territory. (Maripasoula, French Guiana, is much larger than Arles). The city has a long history, and was of considerable importance in the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis. The Roman and Romanesque Monuments of Arles were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1981 for their testimony to the history of the region.
Many artists have lived and worked in this area because of the southern light, including Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin, Jacques Réattu, and Peter Brown. The Dutch post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh lived in Arles from 1888 to 1889, and produced over 300 paintings and drawings during his time there. These are in internationally known museums and private collections around the world. An international photography festival has been held annually in the city since 1970.